Saturday, October 25, 2014

No Pain No Gain

So you like the outdoors and have a sense of adventure, adrenalin and risk. You are looking for something to do during your next period of annual leave. Everest Base Camp is on your bucket list.

Here are some things to consider before booking.

1.     Choose your route

Apparently there is more than one way to skin a cat, similarly there are different trekking routes available. Vie Gokyo Lakes and Chola Pass is the hardest route and all the more difficult if you go through the pass on the way up. Although physically more demanding is it the path less travelled. A quieter path can be much less painful, away from all the loud, obnoxious and slow tourists.

2.     Catering
Markets - Namche Bazaar
Trekking in Nepal is not the time to be on a no-carb diet, regardless of your reasons. Carbs will help with the energy levels and the altitude, besides that it is really all that is available. Rice, potatoes and bread. Be warned Nepali bread is not the same the sliced bread you will find in a suburban western supermarket. Toasted it has the texture of cooked glue. The rice is carried up on the backs of Sherpas, in baskets, 150kg at a time and the potatoes are farmed locally using nothing more than hand tools. So although the food is plentiful consider the pain endured by locals to provide it before you get too picky and leave large potions uneaten on your plate.

Trekking in the Himalayas is also the time to become vegetarian. Meat is available, chicken, goat, yak. However the butcher shops/markets in Kathmadu do not use refrigeration, the carcasses are just sitting outon wooden slabs ready for purchase with the butchers using their knives to swat away the flies. That’s in Kathmadu. On the mountain the meat you eat will have been bought in Kathmandu and then carried up the mountain on the back of a Sherpa, in a basket, for days at a time.

On the mountain the only thing that changes about the menu is the colour of the cardboard on which it is printed.

3.     Amenities

Again keep in mind all of the components making up the amenities for tourists have been carried up on someone’s back and built or put in place by hand. The dining rooms, the toilets, the showers the bedrooms including the beds and mattresses. Lets just describe them as basic. The dining rooms are reminiscent of a school camp dining hall.

The toilets will vary from a western style toilet with seat and cistern/bidet that flushes to western toilets that do not flush to a hole in the ground. Showers
will have as many variants. A bucket of water – with no guarantees of being hot – may be available to scoop over your head with a small container. This may be the same container used to scoop water into a toilet by way of flushing.

The important of toilet facilities will change as your digestive system cycles through interchanging period of constipation and diarrhoea.

The rooms will be dry and protect occupants from the wind. They do not have heating. They may be moulding. The mattress might be hard or soft or lumpy or threadbare. It might even be clean. Regardless of its condition it will be less painful laying on it than carrying it up the mountain.

Electricity, running water and heating will all be controlled by the manager of the property and generally will not be turned on until the evening, unless specifically requested and paid for by guests. Pay for it. Considering the exchange rate there is very little pain to the hip pocket for a substantial gain in comfort.

4.     Up is exhausting
Pumori Mountain, Nepal

At its most basic there are 15 days of up, across varying terrain including scrambling up rock falls, tramping through snowfields and trudging along endless stony paths. The weariness and muscle fatigue create a battle for the mind just to keep going. The ever thinning air can lead feelings of being strangled by the planet as your lungs scream for oxygen.

Altitude sickness may also hit, regardless of age, gender, fitness or previous experience at altitude. Starting with the small but persistent headache across the back of the head that grows in intensity before the nausea dizziness and incoherence set in. At its beginning stages, stop and rest over night before continuing, if it gets worse start heading back down the mountain.

Drinking a lot of water will help with altitude sickness and dehydration. Don’t let the colder weather confuse you are your need to constant fluid. The challenge in drinking at altitude is trying to coordinate inhaling and swallowing. Simple, right? Wrong. The respiratory system kicks into overdrive like a dog panting after a game of fetch on a hot day. Basic human physiology the air and water although travelling at least in part down the same pipe should not end up in the same place. This coordination does not necessarily occur automatically resulting in great hilarity for the rest of the travelling party as a fully grown adult coughs and spits up water.

If you struggle to climb the single flight of stairs at work it is not recommended that you start improving your fitness in the Himalayas. Just because you have seen extreme fitness regimes work on shows like The Biggest Loser it is not that easy. It is also not fair of everyone else you meet on the mountain to have to endure your whinging. It is also not the guide or porter’s fault that you are not fit enough or that the mountains are steep and difficult to traverse.

On the upside your utter state of exhaustion helps you forget that you have not showered and in gore the quality of the mattress.

The promise of spectacular view and the intrinsic sense of achievement will motivate you to get started again each morning.

5.     Down is worse

Whilst up is exhausting, going down batters the body. The constant pounding causes blisters, calluses and general swelling to the feet. Ankles, knees and hips are also in for a battering. Keep in mind 12-18 days up and 3-5 days down depending on the route.

The longer term recovery required following this trek will be related to the down. Your lungs will thank you as the air carries increasing amounts of oxygen.

The promise of getting off the mountain is the only motivation you will need to pull your boots on each morning despite the intense and immediate pain.

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